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American Women: Resources from the Manuscript Collections

Antislavery Movement

Susan B. Anthony. “Make the slave's case our own.” Circa 1859. Susan B. Anthony Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.10

Many early suffragists, including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and members of the Blackwell family, participated in the abolition campaign, and their papers illustrate the adoption of techniques and strategies from that struggle for use in the women's suffrage crusade.

The papers of Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) and Anna E. Dickinson (1842-1932) also show the overlap in the two movements. Howe's papers (200 items; 1845-1917) consist chiefly of speeches and writings, many pertaining to her wide-ranging interests in education, immigration, prison reform, and race relations. Dickinson was a teenage phenomenon on the antislavery lecture circuit, whose electrifying speeches made her one of the campaign's most sought-after speakers. Her familiarity with the stage later led to a career as an actress and playwright. As reflected in her papers (10,000 items; 1859-1951; bulk 1859-1911), Dickinson had a particularly close relationship with Susan B. Anthony and shared the latter's interest in women's rights and temperance.

Anna E. Dickinson. Between 1870 and 1880. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Dickinson also corresponded with escaped slave and abolitionist orator Frederick Douglass, whose own papers (7,400 items; 1841-1967; bulk 1862-95) provide an interesting perspective on women's rights. Douglass collected speeches and articles by Belva A. Lockwood, Ida B. Wells, and Frances Willard, as well as correspondence with such notables as Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, and Frances Willard. His collection also contains correspondence of his first wife, Anna Murray Douglass (d. 1882), and his second wife, Helen Pitts Douglass (1838-1903), a lecturer and women's rights activist whom he married in 1884.

Letters from abolitionist Angelina Grimké Weld (1805-1879), discussing her philosophical disagreements with her sister Sarah Grimké, the importance of women's associations, and her reaction to the bloomer costume, are among the papers of her husband, Theodore Dwight Weld (32 items; 1783-1888).

Similar small collections are available for antislavery stalwarts: Lydia Maria Child (26 items; 1856-76); Harriet Beecher Stowe (14 items; 1866-85); Frances Wright (100 items; 1843-96; and Myrtilla Miner (see “Education”).

The papers of male abolitionists also contain letters and other documents relating to women's participation in the antislavery campaign. Notable among the division's many holdings in this area are: Western Anti-Slavery Society Records (2 volumes; 1834-58); Henry Ward Beecher (5,400 items; 1836-86; bulk 1840-65); Salmon P. Chase (12,500 items; 1755-1898; bulk 1824-72); Theodore Parker (180 items; 1832-1910; bulk 1850-60); Lewis Tappan (5,200 items; 1809-1903); John C. Underwood (165 items; 1856-98; bulk 1857-72); Elizur Wright (5,300 items; 1793-1935; bulk 1830-85).

Some antislavery proponents—both black and white—believed that freed slaves should be resettled in Africa rather than remain in the United States. The voluminous records of the American Colonization Society (190,198 items; 1792-1964; bulk 1823-1912) document one group's efforts to establish in Liberia a settlement for free blacks. Information about women is scattered throughout the society's records—on passenger lists, in correspondence about potential emigrants, and in documents relating to society members, financial contributors, and slave owners. (For related materials, see Prints and Photographs Division.)

Robert K. Griffin The Liberian Senate. Circa 1856. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Manuscript Resources Referenced

The following collection titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content, including finding aids for the collections, are included when available.


  1. Many early women's rights advocates, including Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), came to the suffrage movement by way of the temperance and abolitionist causes. In their struggle to free the slaves, women recognized their own secondary status and developed the political consciousness and skills that enabled them to challenge women's inequality. In this speech from 1859, written when she was the principal New York agent for William Lloyd Garrison's American Anti-Slavery Society, Anthony urged her audience to “make the slave's case our own.” Although she never considered herself a good speaker, Anthony tirelessly traveled throughout the state delivering antislavery speeches while at the same time escalating her campaign for women's rights, a dual mission that caused controversy within the abolitionist ranks and that foreshadowed her break with the society after the Civil War when it refused to protest the exclusion of women from the Fourteenth Amendment. Back to text